Triumph of the Commons in Two Tales

Two Tales of Sharing

The story of stone soup has inspired children to share for generations. Stone soup is that folk tale of people with limited resources not realizing the value of the resources that they actually have. A leader inspired them to bring together their most abundant, but overlooked, resources to create something of higher value. I have lots of carrots, someone else has lots of onions and potatoes, put them together with some water and voila: stew. The villagers were starving before they brought their goods together and shared them. Afterward they were feasting. Moral: Your resources are more valuable when you share them with your community.

The second tale is one of a community library. Ten people had one book they which they had read multiple times. To each person, this book was an “old favorite.” Alas, they longed for new knowledge. One villager began to talk to others about this book they had, and found that others felt the same. Ten decided to put their books together into a library. INSTANTLY they had access to TEN different books, nine of which were new to them. Furthermore, the news began to spread about having access to many books, and other people sought to contribute their one book to the library, in order to have access to an increasingly valuable library. Moral: Your resources can be many times more valuable when you share them with your community.

In the first story, the quality of what was put in increased, but the quantity remained the same. In the second story, you put a little in and get a lot out. The quantity and value of the collective contribution to the library was exponential. The difference lies in what kinds of good area shared: tangible versus intangible, consumable vs non-consumable.

The Damaging Lie of Scarcity

I’m hearing this all over town, “This down economy has been really hard on me and my family. I’m just hunkering down and looking after myself right now.” This mindset, driven by fear and a focus on scarcity, says that sharing will reduce availability of scarce resources and therefore increase suffering. They seem to have bought the lie that resources in our community are limited in quantity and quality. There are many ways this mindset damages our community:

  • Scarcity discourages community involvement, because of perceived limited ability to affect change. “I’m only one person! What can I do by myself?”
  • Scarcity creates fear of one another. A scarcity mindset views neighbors as potential enemies: people who can  make your resources less available to you and your family.
  • Scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Scarcity inspires hoarding. Hoarding resources means that your resources are not available for use by you or the community around you, which is functionally scarcity. It reminds me of a line from a song I learned in elementary school: “Love is like a magic penny. Hold it tight you won’t have any. Lend it, spend it you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor!”

Triumph of the commons: The more you give, the more you get.

Wikipedia defines “tragedy of the commons” as “the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to their long-term best interests.” Tragedy of the commons is natural to people acting out of fear and scarcity mentality. Thankfully we are not bound by our base natures. We can rise above and experience the power that collaboration brings: triumph, rather than tragedy, of the commons.

In an economy where the money and material possessions are the only measure of value, it’s easy to be trapped by a scarcity mentality. The truth is that our collective resources as a community are vast. We need to put money and material wealth in it’s place: it’s just one of many tangible and intangible resources that we have to invest.

Let’s look at what is possible when a modern community collectively invests tangible resources: a twenty-first century stone soup. Kickstarter is a great example of crowd-funding. Community members contribute small amounts of money and collectively fund new creative projects like movies, games, music albums, etc. Crowd-funding has also been used to open local businesses like pubs, bookstores, and food co-ops. This model has amazing implications for the city of Renton. What could we build together? The sky is the limit!

The resources we think less often about are our intangible ones. Our knowledge, and expertise, and circle of friends, are some of our intangible resources. Scarcity says that sharing knowledge and expertise freely will reduce the value of your paid service. On the contrary, sharing tips sets you apart as an expert in your field. The trust created when you share information freely helps people remember you when they have need of your service. It also builds relationship, which enhances customer loyalty.

Shopping Small is Sharing

Shopping at small, locally owned businesses is one way you can share with your community, and you don’t have to spend any more money than you would if you shopped at a big box or chain store! For instance, let’s say you want to have a night out with your sweetheart, (it could happen…right?) You have a choice to spend your money at a unique, locally owned place, or the bland, ubiquitous chain. Does it really make a difference? The answer is definitively yes! Recent studies show that when you choose a local company, more money stays in your local economy.That money, rather than being consumed one time, and leaving our economy forever, circulates here. It is like the book in the community library, which is loaned out time and time again to other community members. The more people who do this, the more money will be available to pay you as well! Jobs are created, small businesses flourish, the economy improves.

Another way the money benefits you multiple times is by tax dollars at work. I don’t know anyone who really likes paying sales tax. That being said, if you have to pay it, it may as well go to support amenities that you will take advantage of, right? When you spend money in your city of residence, your tax dollars go to fund parks, schools, roads, libraries and other great features and amenities that you actually use.

The holiday is a season of giving and sharing. Take time to recognize your assets and be thankful for them. Think about how much more they could do for you if you invested them in your community. Choose local.


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